Forged from the ashes of destruction, Fort Wayne-based prog-rock upstarts Thematic have been making waves this year as the openers for national acts like My Darkest Days and Sevendust while working on their debut LP and landing a spot on a high-caliber compilation album of instrumental guitar music. Not only does the band have origins in previous bands that disbanded, but they made their debut at the 2011 Indiana State Fair the same week of the tragic stage collapse during a Sugarland performance.
“We got a call from the state fair, Indiana state fair asking if we wanted to play as our previous band, and I told them we had a new band now. So that was our first gig coming out, and it was pretty awesome to be at the state fair,” says lead guitarist Kevin Samuel. “It was the year that the stage collapsed at the Sugarland show... the weather that week was just so fluctuating, and it was kind of rainy and wet that night we played.”
At that point the still-embryonic Thematic, who played on another stage a few nights before the infamous Sugarland show, did not have a congealed lineup. Their lead singer ultimately left the band and was replaced by Michigan-based Josh Mayer earlier this year. They did, however, already have enough of their own material to play to the fair crowds and were already playing mostly originals with a few covers thrown in for good measure.
Thematic truly began to kicked into high gear when they were invited to open up for My Darkest Days at Piere’s on March 31 of this year. That high-profile show turned out to be Mayer’s live debut as vocalist.
“We had started working with another singer from Michigan,” Samuel says. “That was going to be his first gig, so talk about some pressure there. And he went in and just nailed it and put on a good show.”
The positive response from concertgoers at that and other shows boosted the Thematic’s confidence to continue on with the songwriting process. And while band members are excited about the creative aspect of writing their music, they are loathe to put a label on it.
“It’s not going to be a certain genre like modern rock or indie rock or metal; it’s gonna definitely be progressive and wanting to be a little bit more outside of the box,” says Samuel. “We want it to be a little challenging for us, to be enjoyable as musicians as well. But not to the point of it not connecting to an audience. We still want emotion. We still want people to feel kind of what we felt when we wrote the songs, and have that kind of effect on people.”
Writing and recording their debut album has met with some delays, however. Initially slated for a completion date of late this year, the band now says it won’t be completed until sometime next year. Part of this is due to the change in lead singer, forcing the band to go back and re-record already-existing material. Part of it, though, also has to do with the painstaking process the band takes in writing and recording their music.
“We usually write longer than we need to and go back and trim it. Because of how we write, it’s most excruciating,” says bassist Nate Buesching. “We do go back and really weed stuff out, give it a good listen. We’re very anal.”
The band’s hard work and attention to detail combined with a little bit of good luck appear to be already paying dividends. Members of the band were recently selected to contribute a track to a a forthcoming Guitar Wizards compilation of instrumental guitar originals featuring established artists such as George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), Chris Poland (Megadeth) and Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne).
“Once they said we want you on this, but we want an instrumental, we thought we could pick one of these songs [we had already completed] and send it to them instrumentally but what’s the fun in that,” says Samuel. “So we went in and wrote a brand new song from scratch. We went into a local studio here in Fort Wayne, and within five hours basically, did all the tracking mixing, and it turned out really, really good, surprisingly well.”
As a part of developing the band’s identity and sound, they have also commissioned original artwork from graphic artist Cameron Gray, known for his work with Dead Letter Circus and Chicago’s Born of Osiris. The artwork that is being used by Thematic wasn’t pre-existing artwork but was made specifically for and inspired by the band’s music. As such, it is something of a collaboration between the band and the artist, having been created after Gray listened to the band’s recordings.
“It just had this element of sci-fi but [it was] still grounded,” says . “And that’s what we wanted ... that was how we felt about the album.”
For now, Thematic continue to hone their songs, explore new avenues and try to connect with their audiences. The crowds at their live shows, in fact, are a critical part of their writing process, as they observe how concertgoers react to their music and take that into account as they refine their catalog.
“We want to test the songs that we’re writing [at live shows] so we can’t just say that people are going to love this song, and then you put it on the album and it’s the one that everybody skips,” says Samuel. “You know, you play it live and it’s the one everybody hates.”
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